Manuscripts and periods of production

There are at least 89 surviving MSS of the Histoire ancienne, though none from the period immediately following its composition; nor are there early extant witnesses from the immediate vicinity of its composition in Flanders, possibly in or near Lille.

The earliest surviving MS may be Dijon BM 562, which was made in Acre in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 1260s. Dijon BM 562 is one of four MSS made in Acre before its fall in 1292, the others being Brussels BR 10175, London BL Additional 15268, Paris BNF 20125 (on these MSS see Folda 2005, pp. 408-12, 419-23, 429-33). All are lavishly illustrated. BNF 20125 is a particularly important MS because it is believed to preserve a version of the text that approximates to the original composition; it is also one of only two MSS to contain the verse prologue and (nearly) all the verse moralisations. Oltrogge (1989, p. 302) considers this MS to be from Northern France and is followed in this by several other scholars; however, Folda's arguments concerning the style of illustrations and Zinelli's linguistic analysis of the MS (2013) offer compelling evidence in favour of its origin in Acre. Most textual scholarship on the Histoire ancienne is based on BNF 20125.  The focus on this particular MS has somewhat obscured the divergences in the text as found in other textual witnesses. Notwithstanding that, BnF 20125 and the Vienna MS offer a unique view at a particular stage in the textual tradition, the version they transmit is usually referred to as the First Redaction, equating it to the text of some 70 other MSS (See: Textual tradition).

Roughly contemporary with these four MSS from Acre (it is hard to be sure of the precise chronology) are four MSS from Northern France: Aylsham Blickling Hall 961, London BL Additional 19699, Pommersfelden Schloss Weissenstein - Schönbornsche Schlossbibliothek 295, The Hague KB 78.D.47. The style, composition and distribution of the illustrations has led scholars to believe that these four MSS were produced in the same atelier or are otherwise closely related. On stylistic grounds Oltrogge (1989, p. 20) tentatively locates this 'Histoire-atelier' in Lille, thus very close to the context in which the Histoire ancienne must have been first received. Alternatively, F. Avril has suggested similarities to MSS produced slightly more to the South, in Soissons or Compiègne (De Visser 1999, p. 19 n. 47). At least one Italian copy, manufactured at the end of the 14th c. (Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, MS Fr.Z.II) is textually and iconographically closely related to the manuscripts in this group.

The next wave of MS production is only slightly later chronologically and, according to extant MS evidence, is primarily located in Northern Italy in the late 13th and the 14th c. Important MSS here include: Paris BnF 168, Paris BnF 686, Paris BnF 9685, Carpentras, BI 1260, Chantilly MC 726, Tours, BM 953, Vienna, ONB 2576 (the other MS, apart from Paris BnF 20125, to preserve nearly all the verse sections), Vatican, VL 5895. The text in some of these Italian MSS seems to derive from the Levantine tradition. Contemporary with this Italian production and throughout the 14th c., MSS continue to be produced in Northern France and, between 1325 and 1425, particularly in Paris. Dated to the late 13th c., the earliest of these is probably Paris BnF 20126

The textual tradition of the Histoire ancienne takes a decisive turn with the production of London BL Royal 20 D 1, the earliest surviving MS of the so-called Second Redaction. Made in Naples c.1340, it was first taken to Spain and later offered as a gift to Charles V of France before 1380, when it is registered in an inventory of the library at the Louvre. After the battle of Agincourt, it was transferred to England, where it entered the Old Royal Library (Barbieri 2005). Further details of the composition of this MS may be found on the next page. Although contested by some, Barbieri's stemma codicum of the French Heroides included in this version suggests that all subsequent copies of the Second Redaction derive directly or indirectly from this MS. The new Troy section, also known as the fifth mise en prose of the Roman de Troie, is sometimes transmitted separately. 

To: Textual tradition